Wednesday, September 7, 2016

City Lights

Last night was my first experience flying over Ottawa during the night.

It was supposed to be the biggest night of the year for me. I anticipated it for a very long time. I've never seen it from the air at night before, save for the odd satellite image I've scavenged off the Internet over the last couple of years. Yet, when I got off the ground, having found a pilot to take me, it was similar to my first solo flight: Largely anticlimactic.

From the circuit - 1,200 feet. Gatineau.

I was expecting bright city lights, obvious road patterns, the ability to see a lot of things I can see during the day. I quickly realized I'd been fooled by those pretty images captured by photographers with truly current, high-end cameras, images that exacerbated the brightness and beauty of city lights from above.

After seeing Ottawa, I don't think we're in danger of really emitting that much light pollution.

5,000 feet. Looking south. Fisher Ave. in the middle, Baseline Road and Huron passing through.

Streets and roads looked amazingly like they actually do from the ground, if not a little dimmer. Lights don't overcrowd each other or mix like paint does in a painting; they coalesce smoothly and subtly. It's dimmer from above no doubt because street lights point at the ground, not at the sky, so you're not under the direct light of a lamp, looking up or out at it; you're above, looking at the surface from which its light is reflected, and not very well. Nearly the entirety of the ground is reflected light.

Prior to going up, I anticipated being (almost) able to capture photos similar to a photographer who has done an online exhibit of some of the world's largest or brightest cities from the air. His images are beautiful, exaggerating the clash of orange sodium vapour with bluish LED lighting, almost over-saturating his sharp, clear images with colour from the ground up. But my camera is not his camera. My camera is five years old, using a sensor that has an ISO rating capability of 12800 - at the cost of absolutely image-destroying noise. I'm pretty sure I had the noise reduction working when I took the pictures, but it couldn't do enough.

Zoomed out, looking at Strandherd Drive in Barrhaven - through a colour-destroying veneer of noise.

Seeing objects and buildings like houses and trees were almost impossible, even to the naked eye. I tried staring down at my street from 5,000 feet and couldn't make it out at all. I live in a neighbourhood that depends more on lawn lighting. The only orange street lights are the ones situated on corners or the entrances to streets. I couldn't even make out the light of my lawn light! If I stared long enough I could just dimly (dimly) make out the reflection of LED light on the sides of the houses in my row, being adjacent to a major arterial that recently got LED lights. The real bright things at night are sports fields, really. 

Barrhaven. Fisheye lens, with a longer exposure time. That made the lights come out more...

The other problem was focus. I alternated between several lenses, the only real sharp one being my fisheye - the focus is manual on that one, so I just keep it at infinity and it's fine. Otherwise images were blurry in certain spots or soft overall. The only truly sharp image is the first one I put at the top of this post. The lens would focus, and the scene would appear focused, only to be soft or entirely blurry or overwhelmed by globes of light; I usually aimed the lens at bright plazas. Ironically, focusing on darker neighbourhoods produced sharper images.

Greenbank and Strandherd. Neighbourhood streets using lawn lights are invisible to the dark...

The bottom line is that my camera's image sensor is a dinosaur compared to today's camera sensors, and can't deal with the required fast exposure times needed for aerial photography at night. The ride is smoother, but you're still moving, and if you have the window open (which you really do need), the air still buffets the lens once you aim it out. An exposure time of at least twice, if not triple, the focal length is needed, which means your sensor won't be able to absorb any light unless it is so powered up, literally hot, that it can make out the city lights and anything else without any camera shake or blur. Can it do that without overheating and being so electrically influenced that you get absolutely nothing but the brightest lights and grain? Mine can't, not really.

The not-as-bright-as-I-expected Merivale Road.

The city isn't that bright. Not brighter than the naked eye sees it on the ground, and not that distinctive either. The patterns are very neat, though, and the differences in light are interesting enough; from the ground I can see every house on my street at night, standing out there. From 5,000 feet, I can barely make out any lawn lights, let alone houses. That's pretty interesting.

Eventually, I will get myself a real high-end camera, a current one that has real night photography capabilities. Then I'll make the city shine. Noise not included.

Before I forget, I shot a video of the whole thing using a suction cup on the back window and my Sony camera. Will be uploading that soon. That camera did a good job showing the lights pretty much as they really are from the naked eye. My pilot also took a few cell phone pictures - his phone appeared to do a better job than my dSLR camera.

Red Cloud

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Same as it Ever Was

Here's a very specific example of how a setting can paint a mental image, or expectation, or prejudice, of what you might be hearing:

In the final days of August, 2008, I was on what I felt to be a slightly impulsive last-minute vacation in San Diego, California. It was my first time in the United States, and I didn't particularly want to be there (not really, even if it was the Sunshine state). On our first afternoon, we walked over to a nearby mall.

Malls in southern California aren't exactly the same as malls in the nation's capital of a northern country. This was a huge complex that was half-outside; escalators went from indoor to outdoor plazas. There was a McDonalds, but the food there tasted largely the same as any McDonalds here in Ottawa. Maybe slightly more seasoning on the burger?

Eventually my mother led the way into a clothing department store. Not a fun place to hang out or be, not for a teenage boy anyway. Out of the speakers came this song:

I must stress that I only realized this was Talking Heads a few months ago, when I heard it on my car radio. When I heard this in the department store, I had a very different idea.

Byrne's vocals - in the chorus, particularly - sounded at first like several men. Hearing it that afternoon in 2008, I immediately connected it directly to my specific place and location. This was southern California, where you had places like "Fashion Park" and models walking around. I was in a clothing department store, a place of fashion. Therefore, the vocals (and simplicity of the song's progression) gave me the image of several male models singing, men who may look somewhat like Freddie Mercury and be flamboyant, if not in a fashion model-like way. And as a result this was a 'California song' or at least something I would only likely ever hear there. I placed it in the same style and category as 'Vogue' by Madonna - something you might hear as girls strut down a catwalk at a high-end, publicized show.

The song left my mind very quickly. Fashion and modelling weren't my thing in the least. I forgot about it until I heard it on an episode of Chuck, a show my mother watched. I didn't expect that; wasn't that some local California band-type thing? I could never hear it up here in a serious, level-headed place like Ottawa. That's absurd.

When I then heard it on my own car radio and saw it was by the Talking Heads, I was extremely surprised, but it made sense.

The song has absolutely nothing to do with fashion, nor does it sound like or mean to be similar to a song like 'Vogue.' It's more of an existential song, a wonder at how things came to be as they are while fitting into social ideals and constantly referencing water. It's funny how those male models coalesced into one David Byrne, a figure I've always known as the singer of 'And She Was' and 'Burning Down The House.' Incidentally, when I first heard 'And She Was,' I found the voice singing sounded like my eighth grade math teacher. That's a long leap from math teacher to male model, all because of where I first heard a song or who I knew at the time.

The sound of this song is unusual. It makes me think of both keyboards, computer noises and phone dial sounds. It was produced by Brian Eno, which on its own might as well explain nearly everything considering his widely experimental recording techniques. Byrne took a bunch of cliched preachy-like phrases starting with "and you may ask yourself," etc. and molded them together into a questioning song. It could make you anxious or calm you down. "Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down."

The video has Byrne dressed smartly against a digital background. The somewhat random scene near the end of him looking serene as he sits on a black background looks kind of hopeful and pointless at the same time.

Music: A-. I like the result of Eno's experimentation. In the department store I thought it was a current song.
Lyrics: A. I almost want to give it an A+ just for its intriguing, questioning nature, the seeming glance at typical life it gives. The whole song sounds unconventional, different, experimental and absolutely relevant. And I thought this was some male model fashion thing when I first heard it.

Red Cloud

Friday, August 26, 2016

This Must Be The Place

In 2013 I read a novel called The Humans, an interesting read, and near the end of the novel, this song is referenced, and several lyrics are included. It ends the novel.

Because I've been listening to a bit of Talking Heads recently, this song showed up in the 'recommended' sidebar on YouTube, and remembering the novel reference, I gave it a try.

It's awesome.

This is highly reminiscent, for me, of the cassettes my father would play in the truck when I was very young. He brought African reggae tapes back from the continent, and the guitar playing in this song essentially emulates it almost. There's a feeling of nostalgia and comfort in hearing it thanks to its old familiarity.

The drums are simple, but now and then they take on a different beat that puts the snare in between the bass drum. It reminds me of when I was obsessed with 'Our House' by Madness, which uses the same drum rhythm - leading bass drum, snare falling in the middle.

One thing I really like is the band's own acknowledgement in the song's title - "Naive Melody" - that this song's music is simplistic. The same three notes are used: D, E, C, then back to E. They had the apparent mentality that rotating around one progression is naive and not stimulating enough to be a good song musically. Of course, all the keyboard accents and additions are further examples of this: One looped progression while David Byrne and keyboard player Jerry Harrison literally messed around on a couple of keyboards. They do it well, however. There's a real world sound in it, and bassist Tina Weymouth played the guitar. What's funny is that she apparently knew how to play neither instrument and just, as the other two did, messed about.

This was David Byrne's honest attempt at writing a love song, which he did "almost completely using non sequiturs." This isn't unusual for Talking Heads, with 'Burning Down the House' almost entirely uses random phrases. There are a few notable lines I really like: "You got light in your eyes" and "You got a face with a view." The music is upbeat, happy, dynamic yet naive, and sometimes exuding cuteness. The high-pitched keyboard parts you hear just before the vocals always gave me an image of something small, like a kitten, looking up at something with interest, or, more personally, the face of a girl I liked. When I heard that riff, I actually realized I used to hear it occasionally at Wal-Mart. It was the only audible bit of the song I could hear in the store.

Thanks to the idea behind the lyrics, the music's nostalgic familiarity to me, and its dynamic, happy sound, I think I would consider it an appropriate song to dance to with my girlfriend if I actually had one. Especially if we married. That would be the wedding song, or at least one of them. Most people appear to like 'Every Breath You Take' by The Police, which is ironic considering it's a post-breakup obsession song.

The music video features the band and their session players happily watching home videos on TV before going downstairs to jam the song with easy happiness.

Music: A
Lyrics: B+

Red Cloud

Friday, July 29, 2016

I'm a Sinner, I'm a Saint

It's been a busy time these days for me. I haven't felt the need to really write here. I still have to finish writing my D song reviews. I've started but haven't finished.

Right now, though, I'm adding a new song to the list, and thankfully, if I go by her first name, it'll be in the 'M' reviews, so this isn't added after the fact.

I heard this song when I was around six or seven, and I always kind of liked it. I never knew what it was called, only that it sounded good. For the first time since then, today, I heard it on the radio again.

Thank god my radio lists the artist/song in the car, and the radio station lists their recent airings online as well.

I can listen to this now objectively, from a lyrical standpoint and a (more importantly) musical standpoint. It didn't take me long to discern that the song is in A major. I'm kind of pleased to hear something in a major key for once, as minor keys are over-used in pop music. Of course, as a kid and now, I like the song for its chorus. As a kid I mondegreened the line "I'm a sinner, I'm a saint" as "I'm a sinner, I'm a sink."

To describe it, I want to first make a couple of comparisons. Take 'Feels Like Heaven' by The Cure, and take this song's first chorus line. The two progressions match identically: A major, E major, B minor, D major. The difference of course is one is light, easy New Wave, and the other is hard-edged rock. Of course, the second time the chorus plays - "I'm your hell, I'm your dream..." - the B minor is replaced with an F sharp minor.

The second comparison I must mention is between this woman's voice and temperament and Alanis Morrissette's. Both sound very similar. Alanis has 'You Oughtta Know;' Meredith has 'Bitch.' Both were released within two years of each other, both are rock-oriented, and both have strong female vocals that reflect strength and independence. Morrissette's lyrics may be more vengeful compared to Brooks' bright acknowledging, but both sound like women you do not want to mess with or consider as traditional in any way.

The music comes across as straightforward and completely unapologetic, which sets the stage perfectly for Brooks' lyrics. The gem for me? The B minor chord. In my head, in the way I see it, the chord - played right as she sings that very 'I'm a sinner, I'm a saint' line - wholeheartedly exemplifies invitation to challenge, strength, confrontation. It comes across as "You have a problem with this/me? Deal with it." It is rare for this chord to come across, to me, as a personality that stands its ground with a firm expression on its face. The only other example of this is 'Walk Like an Egyptian' by The Bangles, and I'm uncertain whether that's B major or B minor. All I know is it exemplifies a girl who doesn't take bullshit partly thanks to the lyrics, and I find that highly attractive. It's used in moderation, however - an F sharp minor replaces it every second time. That comes across as aligning and submissive, rather than B minor.

The lyrics, in short, refer to acknowledging in a relationship that she is naturally strong, refusing to apologize for anything or defer to the traditional subservient feminine image, and yet, happily, her boyfriend wouldn't have it any other way. That's where the positives come from, compared to Morrissette's anger over a failed relationship. I like that. It's how the B minor works so well. The song exudes female strength and independence, which makes it loud and necessary. I just love that strong B minor...

Music: B+
Lyrics: A-

I love finding these childhood gems. The best part is analyzing what I knew I liked so long ago and figuring out why. Plus I know she's not a sink.

Red Cloud

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Done With Circuits

I've got enough time in the circuit on my own now, so after today I'll finally be moving on from that. But I made sure to record a video of as much of my alone time in the plane as possible. The original was almost forty minutes (after which either the battery died or the memory card got full). I've cut it down to eight minutes, ending on a time-lapse of sorts of the rest of the footage.

I overshoot the first time but land the second; you'll have to excuse the silly poses I made, which I did in thinking I could make a neat profile picture and/or journal cover.

Moving on from circuiting. Finally. Also, all the cuts at the beginning of all the checks I make in the cockpit on the ground covered what was actually over sixteen minutes of checklist stuff, re-checking the checklist, fumbling with the keys, writing down times, etc. etc. etc.....

Hope this is inspiring in any way for those who want to learn how to fly - it's really pretty easy.

Red Cloud

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


Well, I must admit I've been away for a while. Away from writing on here. I don't know why. The interest just comes and goes. I've spent the month sometimes opening up this page and thinking about maybe writing something, and then doing the opposite.

But hey, it's after midnight and I turn twenty-five in ten hours and fourteen minutes (12:46am) so I might as well quickly write about this anomaly that has happened. This won't help the time I'll have for sleep as I have to get up at 7am for a solo flight, so I'll be quick. Hopefully I won't create too many typos.

Ever since I first heard this band's stuff, over time, I have not found any song of theirs to my liking. I just had absolutely no positive feeling from anything I heard from them. Some of their songs I can't listen to at all, while others just sound mundane or not to my taste. They were huge in Europe and to this day they refuse to reunite for any reason whatsoever, no matter how much cash is offered. Their name consists of an acronym made of the first letters of their given names.

Oh, Fernando, mamma mia! It's ABBA.

Aside from Celine Dion and some oddly British character named Butch something, these four have the rarest distinction of being the first of these Eurovision champions to have guaranteed success after their appearance and win on the contest. And they're part of a quirky mix of individuals in sharing this distinction, because one is Canadian yet won for Switzerland, and the other sounds like an obscure American redneck from the deep south. ABBA sounds like the only European act to fit this combo. They're one of the first of Sweden's great musical exports, with acts like Roxette, Ace of Base and Robyn to follow later.

I don't like 'Mamma Mia' - it sounds overly contrived, like they're pretending too hard to emulate a stereotypical Italian drama, and 'Voulez-Vous' is interminable and outright annoying. 'Dancing Queen' sounds too effeminate for my taste, and 'Fernando' simply doesn't raise my interest, though it sounds admittedly pleasant. 'Super Trouper' sounds like a song a mother might sing to her little boy as he fell asleep. Up till recently, the only thing I enjoyed listening to that was written by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus was 'One Night in Bangkok,' a silly, kitschy soundtrack thing they wrote entirely apart from ABBA for the benefit of a West End musical an associate was creating called Chess. That song is performed by Murray Head, and it's simply fun to listen to.

I don't really like discovering songs through film soundtracks, but this turned out to be the case for this ABBA song, the name of which is obvious thanks to the title of this post. Thank you, character from the Martian film that likes 70s disco music that Matt Damon has no choice but to listen to. I forget your name (it's not important for me to keep it in my head) but I've finally heard an ABBA song that's not half bad.

Ironically for me, I happen to enjoy the actual song that enabled them to have the legendary popularity and lasting legacy they have today. The reason they're infused into pop culture (for older people probably) is because they chose to submit this song for their performance at the 1974 Eurovision contest. Had I been a panelist for one of the broadcasters then, I likely would have given them a top mark. Hearing this seems to justify why they got success - and not temporarily, like every other winner, but permanently.

'Waterloo,' like Boney M.'s 'Rasputin' chooses a historical perspective for its lyrics. This time it's Napoleon's surrender at Waterloo, a place in Belgium. It still exists, and of course, it exists elsewhere, including as the title and lyric of this song and as a college town in south western Ontario. There are no doubt other Waterloos out there. This is the second 70s pop song from continental Europe I've heard that uses history to outline a narrative or story. I find it to be an interesting comparison to American pop and disco of the same time. Eric Clapton sung about Cocaine; most prominently, the Village People sung about hanging out at a gym, and Lipps Inc. wanted to go to 'Funky Town' (probably a disco). Turning my ears to Europe, I get a sensationalized story about a Russian Tsarets-turned-political-manipulator and references to a historic battle from 1815 concerning a major French conqueror. Obviously these are fun, jocular things that distort or dilute the details or take the focus towards something else that aligns with it, but it still inspired me to look these characters up.

The musical progression follows a simple progression in the key of D major. The verses start with a nice one-time addition of what sounds like 12-string acoustic guitar. D...C sharp-B-A. You could say the basic building blocks are D-A-B. The chorus follows this same exact movement, except a tone down on the second note, so it goes D-G-A. I like the pre-chorus line the most, which sits in B minor. Those dramatic high descending notes? That's simply Bjorn or Benny (I don't know who played piano) playing a descending, broken B minor chord note-by-note high up, playing each note an octave apart. BB-F sharp-F sharp-DD-BB! B minor from B to B an octave lower. Those are fun.

What do I like? It's simple yet fun in a carefree way. It just sounds nice to listen to, catchy in a natural feel-good way, not melodramatic or overly effeminate or outright annoying. I like the female vocals and how they simply say 'Waterloo.' I think most people enjoy songs that reference or verbalize familiar or notable places. I've never been to the Canadian version of the town, but it's familiar in name so it's appealing to hear. The only downside? I think the sax is okay but not totally necessary - I feel like it's there because it was perhaps traditional or typical. Nearly every 80s pop song of notability has a sax in it, because 80s songs had saxes in them. And drum machine effects. Sax was often present in disco and pop music of the 70s as well. At least there wasn't strings. That was the big thing with music in the 70s. Here's something current (for the time) yet not absolutely conforming to every typical standard.

Now I really need to get some sleep. I'm losing more and more the more I type.
Music: A-
Lyrics: A

Red Cloud

Friday, May 27, 2016

Going Solo

Well, for the first time ever today (May 26) I went up and flew on my own.

Going solo in flight for the first time is a big milestone in the flight training process. There is no instructor, no one next to you available to ensure the flight is safe and monitored and guaranteed to end well. It's all up to you.

Today, or really yesterday, I left this planet on my own for the first time, even though it was only for several minutes and I'd remained above the surface at a height of only a little over one thousand feet, and only briefly (considering take off ascent and approach to landing).

I've been approaching this stage for a long time. I started doing circuits around Rockcliffe airport in late December.
The circuit pattern for Rockcliffe airport, as flown by me yesterday.

This followed with circuits at Gatineau airport, Ottawa airport, and Carp airport. Take-offs, crosswinds, downwinds, bases, and finals. Flare-outs. Overshoots. Slips. All winter and spring I've been doing rounded rectangles on the ground and in the air.

Part of the reason it's taken so many months is partly due to lack of money (especially thanks to the demise of my Mac and having to replace it in March) and partly due to the change of instructors partway through. My original instructor wanted me to get going on solo quickly and may have had me doing so a month ago had he not gotten a better job elsewhere back in March; my replacement, a senior person at the club, has a more all-around, experienced, perfectionist approach, and I'm largely glad he does. I went up and down with a lot of ease and no anxiety.

I spent late April and this month perfecting my approaches, flare-outs, and landings. Thanks to money I've made selling things on Kajiji, I went ahead and booked my lesson for yesterday, and it so happened to be the perfect day for me to go on my own for the first time.

It went as usual: I went up with the instructor and did several circuits. Almost no issues whatsoever. But when we took off again after this, he took control and had me fish my documents out of my bag. As a routine I've always kept my documents in my bag and brought it with me, because they are required on any solo flight, so as soon as he asked to see them, I knew what was coming next. I slightly screwed up the landing after that circuit as I dealt with a bout of anxiety, but resolved it afterwards to ensure I would do fine the next time. Doing fine meant that I wouldn't do a touch and go, but rather a full stop in order for my instructor to leave the plane for me to continue on one more time.

After he all became somewhat easier.

I had to redo the run-down part of the checklist before taking off, but that was fine because I was simply using a list. Then I did my 360 look-around, taxied past the hold short line, radioed traffic about my intended take-off (back-tracking to the end of the runway), back-tracked, and then added full power. I took off.

Everything came with ease. The plane took off as it usually did, but it felt slightly lighter, and because everything is set up as a repetitive list of actions, it was all very simple. The controls felt easier to use, particularly the rudder pedals, and there was no expectation of approval or monitoring because everything I had to do was straightforward and set in pace, without being watched. I climbed, got to the required altitude, radioed my position, did my pre-landing checks (which I've done so many times it's all quick and memorized) and simply did the same things I've been doing every single other time. I set my airspeed and descent, and simply completed the circuit, very softly coming down to the runway easily and lightly. Landing felt a lot easier without the additional weight of a passenger next to me. I coasted down the runway, reducing speed, exited, radioed my clearance, and taxied back to the pumps. Taxiing felt so much easier. I didn't expect the lack of one person (who is not overweight or heavy at all) to make such a difference.

Of course, I got wet afterwards. My mother took video while my instructor took the traditional picture, which will end up on the club's Facebook page probably by tomorrow. My friend Alex, who elected to stay behind after his shift at dispatch and watch, did the soaking. It's almost entirely thanks to him that I decided I was going to learn to fly at the club; he happened to be on dispatch when I walked in on Canada Day last year, full of questions. He's since been the source of encouragement and warm advice.
The only unusual thing about all of this is that I can't muster up the feeling of how grand this milestone is. My close relatives are very happy for me, and even those I have on Facebook that I'm not close friends with have responded to the videos and pictures. When I was in the plane, even before taking off, I felt extremely excited at the fact I was taxiing on my own, or taking off or climbing on my own, but it was all in the moment. Now that it's all over with, I can more or less shrug it off. I try to think why, but I have little answer other than that it was pretty cool. It happened to take place on the 26th of May, a day I typically see notability for because I asked out a girl for the first time that day seven years ago. It just so happened to be that that day had the most perfect conditions for my first solo: Calm winds, directed perfectly straight down the runway - no crosswind at all - and perfect temperatures. Not too bad for moisture, and when I got soaked, I didn't get any chill afterwards.

I've been told that those who make solo are almost definitely on path to get their license, in the sense that a lot of people may attempt flight training only to find that they are physically or mentally incapable of dealing with it. It's why they structure the training to include lessons seen as the most frightening - spins, stalls, spirals, etc. - almost as early as possible. Able to take the feeling of lazily rotating vertically through the air in a spin? Okay, can you land an airplane given enough practice then? If so, no problem. What I find ironic is that as a kid I was afraid of most of the faster or active rides at midways and the Super Ex that used to come to Lansdowne Park each summer. Perhaps the difference here is nothing is nearly as startling in a plane; on a ride like a roller coaster you're often very suddenly subjected to G-forces, and that's what I was always fearful of. You don't get sudden G-forces that high in a plane, unless you happen to enter moderate to severe turbulence, and one of the objectives of flight is to avoid such circumstances.

What's next? I'll be soloing from now on in each successive lesson, to the point I won't have my instructor with me at all. The idea is that he'll be in the plane less and less.

That will be pretty awesome. Not as awesome as flying at night will eventually be, but great enough for now.

Red Cloud

Friday, May 20, 2016

Micro-Reviews, The - Artists Beginning with 'C'

Here's my next round of micro-reviews, containing all the artists in my list whose name starts with 'C.' I should point out that when I compiled the list, I put it in alphabetical order by not just the group name, but if it's an individual's name first and last, via that individual artist's first name. "Peter Gabriel" is in the 'P' section, not the 'G.' I just found it more straightforward that way, I guess.

Here I go.

The Cars (1976-1988)
This is a band that I find largely lighthearted in their musical approach. Their stuff is usually moderate-paced and somewhat easy-going. I like more than a couple of their songs, starting with 'Magic' (1984). I do like how the band can be versatile in their usage of guitar rock and synthy keyboards throughout their songs, so that they can sound like a traditional rock band ('Just What I Needed') or a soft New Wave ballad ('Drive.') Then there are songs that are right in the middle, such as 'Tonight She Comes,' 'You Are The Girl,' 'Magic,' etc. The band were around a decade older than most of their contemporaries during their heyday, spending their late twenties to the end of their thirties on the charts. I wish Benjamin Orr sung a little more than he did; Ric Ocasek was a lot more prolific and probably a little more marketed in general, making Orr something of a carefully-used treat you had to wait for. His vocals on 'Drive' have that emotional depth while he sounds young and carefree on 'Just What I Needed.' He died almost sixteen years ago, in October of 2000. He was only fifty-three. The Cars, minus Orr, continues today and has been since restarting in 2010 after years of Ocasek adamantly refusing any reunions.

Good Times Roll (1978)
One of what I'd call their 'feel-good' songs, largely with the larger-then-life refrain of 'good times roll!' This song starts in the chord of B major and largely stays there from beginning to end, moving a step down to A and another to G, The refrain bounces from E to its dominant, B, than down to the next E, an octave lower, on the bass. At the same time the chords of E major and D major are played to harmonize with the dominant B.
The title and premise of the song is simple, and I expect that it doesn't mean much other than letting things be what they are without worry. A carefree attitude, just to let the good times roll. There are also bits that sound anxious or uncertain, such as the bass's repetitive meander through B-E flat-E-E flat and back. Thanks to the guitar riffs, the synthed strings, and the general sound of the song, I get the impression and feeling that it sounds like something I would have heard played during an episode of That 70's Show. I wonder if I did. It does have a 70s rock sound to it.

Drive (1984)
This really differs from the song above. I don't know its musical progression, but I do know that it's a soft ballad that moves very slowly and sounds very sad. The model that features in the video for the song, the girl on the verge of tears, ended up pairing up with Ocasek. Good taste, I guess. Benjamin Orr wonders when the subject of the song will realize they're largely alone, and not in a good state. His voice is both outreaching and tender. I want to hope that he helps out whomever he is talking to, and 'drives them home' tonight. It's an emotional song that works, and it sounds full of depth. I say that because I've heard covers and they don't sound nearly as believable and raw as this does. Great emotional song that demonstrates the band's versatility.

Magic (1984)
This is likely the first song by them that I heard that made me look them up and take notice. The first song of theirs that caught my ears. It's simple: It's a catchy song. The keyboard is bright and appropriately wondrous-sounding. I haven't quite figured it out, but I know the basic structure of the song is a simple A-D-E, with a little extra E-F sharp-E picked low on the bass. It probably fits the definition of the simple catchy pop song really well, complete with lyrics about love and relationships. It is your typical Cars-style blend of naked guitar power chords with multiple different keyboard synths and riffs. One thing I find hinders the song's pace: The drum fills, which sound awkward and too eagerly added. They don't sound very cohesive, just random and played without too much prior thought to how they'd be executed. Not all of them are off, but I think that the band might have wanted to emphasize the big drum sound they created for the song, and they didn't execute it that well.
One other thing I want to mention is the music video. The band must have cast every single character they could find. There's a man on stilts, a crazy-looking bearded man, a portly guy who appears to be hungover, a mime, and two women that stand together at all times, in matching dresses, looking off into space and otherwise appearing nonchalant. They're rushing to gawk at Ric Ocasek, who is walking on the surface of a pool. Perhaps the idea was for the circus types to be the spectators. Reverse it so that a normal guy like Ocasek is now the attraction while the peculiar ones are the audience. It's just that they overdid the excitement and amazement to the point he's almost like Jesus walking among them, there to be touched and patted on the shoulder. Everyone takes a turn to leer or make a face at the camera for some reason. Expose their weirdness? I wonder if anyone noticed the mime on the diving board in the background as Ocasek passes the admiring queue. The sad thing is I used to imagine the video as the occasion of my birthday, and instead of all the people, the crowd was full of friends. A few in the video do actually look like a couple of them, and the two women reminded me of (now aforementioned) girl friends I both liked. As such they were my favorite characters in the video, because of how they looked, and that they didn't go crazy like everyone else. The video was filmed at the Hilton family's house in Beverly Hills, and Ocasek did get wet on the first take, thanks to the collapse of the plexiglass platform that stood in the pool.

Original Reviews (combined) of 'Magic' and 'Tonight She Comes'

Tonight She Comes (1985)
This is another typical-sounding Cars song with a blended use of keyboards and guitars. I recall that most of the reason I listened to it was thanks to the redhead that featured in the video thumbnail on YouTube. The song turned out to be good enough in the end, though when I think about the redhead now, I feel that the video put her up on a pedestal somewhat while simultaneously making her appear to act like a little girl here and there, which I don't particularly like in regards to my personal taste. But she's still kind of cute. I liked the simple progression of F-C-G-B flat. Wikipedia says it's in F major. Probably. I like that and its Cars-like sound, complete with backing voices, an element they employed in virtually all of their songs. A couple of things I don't like: The accentuated guitar power-hits during the big guitar solo. Unnecessary. Some of the higher-pitched keyboard synths make it sound too decadent. But otherwise, a good enough song.

You Are The Girl (1987)
Original Review
I heard this at Wal-Mart. I was attracted to what appeared to be a sustained A note on a keyboard. If I were you, I wouldn't really go and read my original review - reading it myself, it's embarrassing how much I talk about personal experiences that made me relate riffs in the song to them, or excited words about how notes make me see 'my face.' It would have been so much easier to write that particular notes such as the sustained A gave me personal self-reflections that were nice. I was determining that that musical note was what I personally related to the most at the time.
This song is in exactly the same vein as all the others aside from 'Drive' and 'Good Times Roll,' though the reason I like it is different. It's a combination of lyrics and timing. I finally determined enough of the song to be able to look it up the same night I was experiencing emotional let-down thanks to one of those aforementioned girl friends, who worked in the same building. The song came at the right time. "Why don't you dream anymore? What's in the way?" "Why don't you talk anymore? What did I say?" As I did manage to mention, I like the additional voices adding to certain lyrics, such as the 'why don't you stay for awhile?' line. Altogether, they make the words sound refined.
I failed to mention in my original review (as I would have at the time) that this song notably uses a moterik beat. The bass drum drives the every note except for the 2 and 4, which falls to the snare drum: _ _ - _ _ _ - _. 1-&-2-&-3-&-4-&. I first heard about such a rhythm when I read up on both a Wikipedia article and a separate magazine article on the Devo song 'Whip It,' which is incorrectly stated to have a moterik beat (it has a constant beat: 1-&-uh-2-&-uh-3-&-uh-4-&-uh). The bass is constant on only the quarter notes - 1-2-3-4 - no additions on the &s or uhs, while the snare is again on 2 and 4. Maybe the tight hi-hat rhythm confused everyone, as it plays every note save for the snare, but again at a constant rate, with an open hi-hat on 1 and 3. The idea behind the moterik beat, including its name, is that the beat 'drives' you through the song on the bass drum. 'You Are The Girl' is a good example of that.

The Chemical Brothers (1989-Present)
What I know of the Chemical Brothers is limited, but I would think it would be right to say that they are probably part of a group of pioneers of the 1990s that made house and big beat music popular - pioneers along with Fatboy Slim, Moby, and others. I also happen to know that they are English, and that they started out by calling themselves the Dust Brothers until an already established music production duo with the same name put a stop to that. The two who had claimed the name first had done so four years prior, and like the Chemical Brothers, they produced acts that sampled music. They also happened to produce Middle of Nowhere by Hanson in late 1996, which turned into an enormous breakthrough success for the three teenagers on the cover. In terms of The Chemical Brothers, I happen to know them thanks to the music video for 'Let Forever Be.'

Let Forever Be (1999)
I think I saw the video first, in a program about influential or notable music videos regarding their visual effects or creativity. This one happened to pop up. I think it actually serves as the main influence behind a clip video I created seven years ago while in high school. It's still on YouTube. I need to take it down or make it invisible. It's embarrassing for me to watch now because it looks so silly and amateur - and it uses 'In The City' by Madness, which just exacerbates that. Regarding this music video, it uses a lot of really neat visual transitions from on-location settings featuring a female character to studio-based choreography featuring duplicates of the character. A drummer also shows up here and there, sometimes mirrored, and by the end the woman's alarm clock has magnified hugely.
In terms of the song itself, it's an interesting bit of sound. I describe it that way because it comes off as an experiment in sound production rather than musical harmony. The backing drums are a good accompaniment. The song almost sounds like something you'd hear in a video game, in terms of the lower sounds. Oasis frontman Noel Gallagher sings the lyrics, which sound dreamy and distant but also versatile. "How does it feel like to spend a little lifetime sitting in the gutter? Scream a symphony."

Chicago (1967-Present)
All I have to say about these guys is that I like one of their songs, and that's about it. They sound good in general, but I don't have enough interest. The band features as a background running joke on the main character of the film Clear History, and they also appear in the film.

25 Or 6 To 4 (1970)
This song starts out very interestingly and continues that way, though I don't like the ending too much as its reliance on all the horns reminds me of the sounds of 70s TV show themes - particularly M*A*S*H. But I like the chorus and the very simple subject matter: Should I keep doing what I'm doing despite the time? The song's title is a ponder at whether it's 3:35 or 3:34 in the morning, and the question is whether to continue to try to write or go to bed. I often have that dilemma when I write my journal, or write on here - particularly as I write these micro-reviews, which is normally done in the early hours of the morning. It's currently 10 to 2am.
The band fuse horns with rock really well, in much the same way Electric Light Orchestra fused strings with rock during the same period. Why do I like this one song by them? I guess I like the sound of the vocals, the progression and the fast-paced rhythm. 'Saturday in the Park?' Kind of boring to me. Appropriate sound for the subject matter, yes, but boring for my ears.

Chilliwack (1970-1988)
Another Canadian band, this time from the west coast, namely Vancouver. I moderately like them for a song or two, and that's about it. While it's not on my list, I like the musical progression and sinister sound of 'Secret Information' (the verses).

My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone) (1981)
When I looked up the music  video, it appeared to be taken from a program of music videos of songs named 'My Girl,' because for a split second you can see a shot of Chas Smash of Madness drinking tea in the final scene of the music video for the Madness song 'My Girl' before it cuts to the introduction of 'My Girl' by Chilliwack.
This isn't a very happy-sounding song, but it's very hopeful. The music sounds bleak and hopeless, and makes me think of the sun having just set extremely early on a frigid winter's afternoon. Yet you're still in the mostly empty office with lots of work still to do. However, I like it because of the hope exhibited in the lyrics, and the refrain of 'gone gone gone she's been gone so long...' After the first verse, which has wound itself up into a climax of music and vocals, it suddenly falls apart, stops...and then the vocal refrain immediately re-starts. It's quite funny to listen to at first. But this vocal refrain ends up building up the final coda of the song. It's interesting.

Chumbawumba (1980-2012)
These guys are probably the most radical group on my list. The band, which had all sorts of people come and go, have deep anarchic roots, preferring to do what they want without much regard for any kind of system or authority. They spent all of their early years gigging at minor things as a sort of rag-tag group of instrumentalists with various stances on issues. Only when they finally signed with a major record company - EMI - in 1997, finally choosing an option that was financially plausible while receiving the potential to reach a major audience (and simultaneously alienating all of their anti-corporate, anti-systematic supporters, contemporaries, and following) did they make a mark on the charts. And while they did release further singles afterwards, I haven't knowingly heard any of them but for their first breakthrough hit, which I'll write about below.

Tubthumping (1997)
This has to hold the notability as the very first song I heard on the radio that I actively liked and looked forward to hearing. Sure, there was what turned out to be 'Gangsters Paradise' which I kind of liked when I first heard it at a young age, but this was a song I really wanted to hear. I remember when I first heard it. I spent my summer being watched by my friend's mother, who was a neighbour, and one of the routines of the later afternoon was driving to Nortel in Kanata to pick up my friend's dad from work. I'd hear it on the car radio during these commutes, in the back seat with my friend. I guess I liked the refrain: "I get knocked down. But I get up again. You're never gonna keep me down." When I think about it, the family that babysat me was highly religious, at least the mother, and considering the potential tone or lyrical suggestions the song could hold for that sort of mindset, I'm kind of impressed she didn't change the channel or turn it off.
The song uses a basic musical structure for the refrain - D major to G major, over and over, on guitar and keyboard, and then a simple E minor, G major, D major and A major for the little 'Danny boy' verses. I've taken the song apart, and it's interesting. Lyrically it appears to be about sitting in a bar virtually all the time, living life as an alcoholic. On the other hand, the title apparently refers to sensationalizing politicians. I like the Arm & Hammer-influenced cover art. The trumpet is a sorrowful, but relevant, addition.

Citizen King (1993-2002)
This band, like a lot of the others in this list, was a one-hit wonder. They had their song 'Better Days (And the Bottom Drops Out)' and that was it. It was fronted by its bassist.

Better Days (And the Bottom Drops Out) (1999)
I liked this song when it played on the radio when I was eight. It just sounded catchy, and it still does now, though it has its derivative progression to thank for that. Most songs use this progression in D minor, but they upped it to E minor. E-D-A. However, this song uses scratch and sound effects, with the choruses always dissolving on this keyboard effect. I liked the unusual sound they used during the second verse. I don't know what it is. It just sounds different and interesting. It made me laugh many years ago. The acoustic guitar is nice. It sounds appropriately uninterested. The one thing I don't like is the very random "I've been a star of many plays" line in the chorus. It doesn't work to me. It sounds like something used for the sake of rhyming with 'days.'

Coldplay (1996-Present)
I kind of wonder why they're called "Coldplay." It sounds somewhat different to all the typical band names I've seen. I don't particularly listen to them, but 'Clocks' did make an impression on me. Other than that, I've heard their other song, the one with the interminable string rhythm (I forget what it's called) and I've seen the music video for their single 'The Scientist' (largely because it plays entirely in reverse) but nothing else they've done has appealed to me than the one song they came out with in 2002.

Clocks (2002)
I think I like it for the same reason everyone else likes it: Its piano arrangement. The progression and arrangement is extremely simple and only makes up three chords. It sounds so bright yet only the first chord is a major, the second two limited and sad-sounding minors.
The exact style and way it's played goes like this: The first chord is played in its second inversion, the second in its third, and the last in its first, and they're played broken, in a descending manner from the tonic of the first (E flat major), the mediant of the second (B flat minor) and the dominant of the third (F minor). This descending rhythm is played twice per chord, and broken off halfway on the third round of the first and second chords (the F minor plays a whole three times). It's really that simple, even if my long sentences don't make it seem that way. Furthermore, the bassist does a nice compliment by ascending to the second note rather than descending as the piano does.
Lyrically, I'm not entirely sure what the vocalist is trying to get across, unless the song is really just about letting things go. I don't know. I get the impression there's romance in there, probably longing. It just happened to be the song the DJ decided to put on when a girl in my class prompted a dance with me that she'd asked for minutes earlier, causing me greater discomfort than I already felt as we held each other's shoulders - this was a song I liked and I was with a girl! This was an end of school dance. I was finishing grade six. Too shy and awkward and not nearly confident enough at pairing with someone, a nice girl did it for me, just as a song I felt embarrassed to listen to and like started. The dance lasted half a minute. I couldn't look her in the face and to help I kept repeating the phrase "I can't wait to tell Duncan." She very quickly suggested I go ahead and do that. I haven't really danced with a girl since. Probably a good thing. As for my brief dancing partner, she's happily married these days, and living far away from here.
Clocks is a good song, though I do wish it could be, at least in my eyes, perhaps good for more than just its piano and to a much lesser extent its bass. It's a happy song for a second. The rest is melancholy.

Counting Crows (1991-Present)
Nothing to say here, other than I kind of like the lead singer's voice.

Mr. Jones (1993)
I like this song for its well-executed style and lyrics. It just sounds well-done. You get a lot of minor chords throughout, though it sounds happier on the chorus. The lyrics are well-written and well sung. I love how the singer changes the refrain in each chorus: "Mr. Jones and me tell each other fairy tales" "Mr. Jones and me look into the future" "Mr. Jones and me stumbling through the barrio," etc. The lyrics make me think of me and a friend of mine to some extent, particularly in terms of looking at girls. That's about it; my guitar is black and white, not grey, and while I want to record music, most of it is for the record of my ideas and creativity rather than 'seeing myself staring back at me' on the television. Apparently, it was written with a real-life Mr. Jones, who was a bassist in another band separate from the Counting Crows, in mind.

Hanginaround (1999)
Very nice guitar in this one. It sounds deep at first, while the bass, when it comes in, sounds exactly the opposite, extremely bright. It has a catchy progression. I haven't heard it in awhile. I recall the music video - the vocalist waits for a bus and lets all pass until a cute woman shows up to wait with him. One particular scene I remember is a shot of the rest of the band smiling through one of the bus windows. It looked kind of funny to me. There's a nice piano in it too, and it ends with everything either stopping, fading out, or just falling apart. Another part of the attraction is just the singer's voice, which I've mentioned. I don't really know what else to say about this song. No real negatives. It's nice to hear the snare drum without any snares on it once in a while.

The Cult (1983-1995)
I have nothing to say about them other than their lead singer looks like an older woman who works in the dry foods section at work (at least he did in the 80s).

Rain (1985)
Original Review
I heard this on a music channel on TV. It just sounded welcoming to hear. But, as I mentioned for 'Better Days' above, it uses a derivative progression - the exact same one - and, like everyone else, on D minor. But the guitarist found a way to be creative with his instrument, so there is something refreshing there, and it sounds somewhat rejoicing to me, which I also like. I admire the idea of a beautiful woman embodying rain, as I also like rain, albeit on a hot sunny day, in refreshing bursts, or the soothing sound of it at night. But there are very obvious things I dislike, largely visual things. I'd simply say don't watch the music video, as there are repetitive close-ups of a mouth pouring saliva on a microphone. And as I mentioned, the singer reminds me of an older woman I know at work. That's specific to me, but I'm sure other people may find he looks effeminate. Apparently, the band don't find this song to their liking very much. I wonder why. Either way, in some of its lyrics and its rejoicing guitar, it does sound refreshing in its way.

The Cure (1976-Present)
These British guys were probably one of the obvious examples of New Wave Gothic style. I only know one of their songs, and I'm glad I do. I think they have a very recreational attitude towards recording, which helps their creativity and performance. My paternal aunt once knew, or met, lead singer Robert Smith. I can't remember exactly, but there's no reason not to believe her.

Feels Like Heaven (1987)
Original Review
Song De-construction
This is a great song right from the introduction. It's a nice build up starting from drums, bass guitar, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboard synths, and lead guitar line (vocals finally starting after). One thing I originally thought was that the lead guitar notes, the descending line of happy notes, is actually played by the same guitar that plays the deeper melodies that are constant throughout the song. Overall, it's this guitar melody that makes me love its sound. Not to mention that in the proper recording the electric guitar stays on one channel while the acoustic keeps to the other, as if their players are on either side of you. It's in A major - a rare thing, a major - and it's something I easily relate to personally based on the progression and the notes used, and the melody. Lyrically, it appears to be about nostalgia, the happy memories of the early stages of a relationship, which are based on singer Smith's memories of his courtship with his wife. These memories are particularly routed in the setting of the Beachy Head cliffs, and the music video is appropriately set there. The music sounds joyful, happy, endearing and, in places, kind of sad in its nostalgia. I just think the gentle guitar melody is beautiful.

Well, those are my reviews of artists whose (first) names start with C. There were far less, thankfully, and it wasn't as hard and prolonged as all the B-named bands/artists. I will come around with my 'D' reviews, for which there are only nine artists. For that I can be somewhat thankful. This was written over several evenings. Moving on.

Red Cloud

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

What Does Pride Mean, Really?

I understand the idea behind pride parades, of any sort, whether it's for the benefit of transgender people, bisexuals or the traditional same-sex couples, or all at once (I'm pretty sure all at once is typical).

I don't understand the groping and the nudity.

I once had an e-mail conversation with a woman who had the personal opinion and perspective that non-traditional sexual relationships should be pitied because they're reduced to that and nothing else. Stripped of any unique individualism aside from that, homosexuals and non-heterosexual relationships are only about the exclusive fact that their sexuality is non-traditional, and that's that.

I don't believe in such a narrow view, but all those pictures I see of guys holding each other's butts and standing together nearly naked sort of illustrates her point. To show your pride, you have to hold your partner's ass, not merely just his hand. That shows you're definitely in a relationship with him, and proud.

My understanding of a pride event is that for the community or category of people it represents, it provides a time and place of well-being for those people, an event for them to feel as regarded as any normal human being should be in the face of their adversities, which have usually been given to them by a hostile social atmosphere, or a limiting government that encouraged disparities in the civil system. As such, people should feel comfortable, which means they should be able to hold their partner's hand, or stand intimately together, without any malice or self-consciousness. They can feel proud in showing this attraction. That's the idea.

Unfortunately, I think that idea went a little too far, because I highly doubt couples behave in public by grasping each other inappropriately or getting so intimate it almost becomes indecent exposure. Being prideful should mean confidently exhibiting who you are by doing typical things - in this case, holding hands or giving a little kiss on the cheek, being affectionate in a way that's not forced or inappropriate. I see heterosexual couples kissing on benches and holding hands, not groping each other; I would expect that in the LGBTQ* community, they probably have the same social conventions. Non-traditional sexual orientations are probably only different than traditional ones on an emotional level - not necessarily a social one, and definitely not only on a mere sexual one. But hey, I don't absolutely know. And I may obviously be judging the nature of an entire event via a few photos and what I've heard. They don't refer to every participant, of course. The simple basis for all of this is my wonder at why a few participants in these affairs like to show their pride by being overtly sexual in their public behaviour - which most heterosexual couples, at least from what I've observed over my life, don't really participate in. Those that do tend to make people uncomfortable, and they get a lot of space. Of any gay couple I've ever seen on the street, they look no different than anyone else, and they behave no differently either. Why, for the few that do, act in such a manner during those parades? Isn't that a bit misleading?

I don't know. But I'd rather not observe that personally. I find it somewhat offensive. This goes for any couple, gay, straight, transgender or whatever. Everyone has private space. And before I get criticized for hating public displays of affection, there is a difference between romantic kissing and being close, and grasping each other with forceful passion, pulling ass and slipping hands up skirts, etc. One is sweet. The other is crude. I have no problem with the former.

The 'C' micro reviews should be coming up soon.

Red Cloud

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Under a Microscope

Being part of my generation, I've seen and read a few articles and blog posts about us and what others seem to perceive. Most of it is hardly positive. The other night, a page on Facebook I follow posted a viral video of a young woman apologizing for our existence. Hence my decision to write what I think. By the way, I didn't watch the video. I've seen enough petulant stuff in the media to understand the attitude and topic of what the video obviously talks about, and the brief explanation was enough.

Instead of merely listing what's wrong and what I think is right or wrong, at least right away, I'm going to be simple and say this: I believe every generation has the same attitudes and personalities, the same strengths and weaknesses. The only reason those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s are getting the most observed flack about everything is because we're the first generation to live in the digital age where interconnectivity is rich and fully apart of our lives, and we therefore have social media to keep us highly aware of all of this.

There's also the fact that we are the first generation to use smartphones and computer-based relationships. We have such a high wealth of information at our hands. You don't have to go to the library to research a topic in a book or on microfilm, you can just plug into a network and use Wikipedia or countless other online resources; you don't have to phone your friend or knock on his door, you can simply text him or look on your Facebook newsfeed and get information from all your friends immediately. This unfortunately means you get a ridiculous overload of information as kids take selfies non-stop and people track each other on apps, and we come off as self-absorbed narcissistic brainiacs who know a lot about nothing at all. I doubt knowing Canadian Daniel Lanois produced Martha and the Muffins, Peter Gabriel, U2, and Robbie Robertson will get you very far when it comes to useful knowledge.

We are also coming of age at an inopportune time, and this isn't an excuse. A lot of successful people, aside from brains or courage or determination, happened to come along at a very good time. A very interesting book by Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers, discusses this. Computer software pioneers like Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, etc. all happened to come of age in the mid-70s when computer software development was just picking up. There was a developing market for what they were born to do, and they came at the perfect time. For us, though, in an economic sense, we have the period of time after the Great Recession. Things are as slow as ever.

Personally, I am not going to apologize for anything, whether it's existing (which makes no sense) or being part of this young generation. It's the Internet and this world of extreme interconnectivity, this environment of hyper information overload, that's slapping us in the face with all of these complaints and opinions and analysis of us as a group. We're under a microscope. There isn't a parent in any previous generation who felt their kids or "today's kids" are as 'tough' or smart or anything else ideal that they envisioned.

Of course, like any other generation, there are the functionally incapable ones, the kids who sit doing nothing for themselves because the online world or their parents will do it for them, the lazy ones and the whiny ones. With us it's perhaps more pronounced - I won't deny that all of those so opinionated are probably right in a sense. It's not entirely our fault. Who raised them? What kind of parents decided to give their ten year old child a smartphone? Who decided video games and Facebook were enough for a child? Who decided schools should have super-important "graduation" ceremonies for finishing senior kindergarten, and that the child is always right no matter what (for fear of hurting their self-esteem?) Team sports are all about smiling at each other and running around, with points for showing up and participating. There's little to no effort required. Connect two and two together. Maybe that's why we have a reason to complain. It makes absolutely no sense - nor is it right or fair - to raise a person a certain way, have it backfire or produce undesirable results, and therefore blame that person for being who he/she is. Or suggest or make him/her feel, ridiculously, that they should be apologetic for 'existing.' It's insane and despicable.

I'm what everyone calls a 'millennial.' I'm a nobody, at least until I've proven otherwise, with my own efforts. I don't expect a medal for landing a job and coming in on time; I don't need my hand held and I certainly have no fear of getting anxious at every little uncertainty. I'm not going to complain that I belong in a 'whiny' generation, because that's what people like to focus on and generalize, and I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon or be so hopelessly narrow-minded. I do believe that at this moment it is difficult to consider any career prospects, and that instead of worrying so much about student debt, we should be worrying about having a market and a need for new grads in the business world so that those who already have that debt can at least get a start somewhere and begin paying it off. After all, you can lower tuition fees and make school a reality for disadvantaged families, but they aren't going to be much better off if their degree, diploma or doctorate will only ever get them a job at McDonalds or Canadian Tire for the next X number of years. At least as long as the economy is slow, the market is dead, and whatever job opportunity that does exist only considers those with years of experience. And unpaid internships don't help anyone but the company; how often does an unpaid internship count to a different employer interviewing the candidate? I don't expect much.

We're overly examined because of the age and technology we live in, and it isn't helped with boneheaded alternative ideas to raising children, whether it's making them feel ultra-self-important, giving them a piece of technology and telling them to sit with it, or helicopter parenting to the point that grown-up child is incapable of surviving without his or her hand being held. The problem is the time we live in, parents, technology, and to a small extent, our own inner natures, all of which are unique, being negatively affected by the latter. No child in the 70s took pictures of his or her own food every day, or face, except for the odd artistic photographer planning an exhibition in some creative vein.

Oh, and we need to stop screaming at each other. Before you finish this and densely decide that I've been complaining about us as a generation, realize I've been avoiding the whole self-loathing shit in favor of a disconnected observation on external reasons that seem a lot more plain in sight to me. I'm not going to tell my peers to "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" or stop complaining, because putting someone down in their disadvantaged way by doing so is cruel. We need to help each other out and be positive, not disdainful or comparing.

Red Cloud

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Micro Reviews - B

Last time, with 'A' bands, I did my usual thing and got too wordy and bogged down in what I had to write. As a result my mind got impatient and bored, and I began reusing words and phrases and sometimes explaining what I meant too much. This time, I'm going to keep it to the true shortness of a micro review, including my little blurbs on the artist/band. I don't need to delve into their history or where they ended up, just my opinion and whatever I find briefly interesting. That's what this is about, after all.

Here I go again (on my own, down the only road I've ever known)...

B-52's, The (1978-Present)
What do I think of them? Not too much. And I don't mean that in a negative way. I just happen to like only two of their songs. They did the Flintstones theme for the Flintsones movie in 1994, which was good if I can remember it well. I haven't really tried to look over their back catalogue. I probably should. They are a fun, happy band though, from what I get, which I like.

Love Shack (1989)
Original review
Great bass line and guitar. Nice vocals. The girls give off a flirty, inviting tone that's attractive while Fred Schneider is generally fun to listen to. A nice party atmosphere in the song. Guitar stands out to me in sound and style.

Roam (1990)
Original review
I like this because it makes me think of early days when I was young at my maternal grandparents' when they lived in Kanata. I don't know why. I tend to think of my maternal relatives when I was young and visiting them. Good guitar, nice procession, and great how it always ends up on B major.

Bananarama (1979-Present)
An 80s girl group. I don't know much about them, but like probably most people, at least on this continent, I only really know their hits 'Cruel Summer' and 'Venus,' and prefer the former. Not much else thought on them, really. I think Ace of Base covered Cruel Summer in the late fact I probably mentioned that about them in the 'A' group.

Cruel Summer (1983)
Simple pop song, but I like it for its guitar, keyboard and summery atmosphere. The notes are simple, too: D flat minor, A major, and B major. It's a great sound. The keyboard follows this as well as the guitar. I love the drum effects and the xylophone sound as well. They give me an image of a rainy forest on a slope. The chorus makes me think of a beach that has a soft, easy gradient into the water. I guess that's the point. Lyrically it appears to be more about being on one's own and bored in a too-hot city. Mirages of friends and maybe a lover.

The Bangles (1981-1989)
Sharing a record company with R.E.M., English Beat, and many others (I.R.S. Records, owned by Stewart Copeland's older brother) The Bangles were another American* girl group in similar vein to The Go-Go's, though I think they might have been more involved with writing music and lyrics than Banarama may have been. Yet, when I think of it, two songs of theirs that come to mind - 'Walk Like an Egyptian' and 'Manic Monday' - were written by others, the latter being the recently late Prince. Again, not much to say on them, other than Susanna Hoffs is cute (as she looked in the 80s - I don't know how she looks now).

Walk Like An Egyptian (1986)
Original review
I like this song's key. Published written music of this song puts it in C, but it just doesn't match up to my ears, which hear it in B major. I think publishers do that - lift it up a semitone - to ease the difficulty of the song into an easier key to play for a learning pianist/guitarist, because every songbook I've picked up that has this song in it puts it in C major instead. I like the song for its guitar, really, and general fun look at every day life via the lyrics and key changes (B - E - B - D, and so on). Nearly every member of the band has her part, except for the drummer I believe, so there's variety, and it's just plain fun. The guitar makes the B major chord it's playing sound angry and surly and not to be messed with. I went crazy about that in my original review.

Barenaked Ladies (1990-Present)
A fun Canadian band known for their harmonies and quirky lyrics. I like a lot of their random hits: Enid, One Week, It's All Been Done, Falling For the First Time, etc. They have something of a range which is nice, although I kind of wish Andy Creegan had stayed with them longer, because I liked his piano parts in their music. Kevin Hearn is a great fundamental part of the band - he fit in well from the start - but I would have liked to hear genuine piano a bit more and Hearn is more of a synthesizer player in the band. I can't diminish his parts though, of course, because like I said, they work.

Enid (1992)
Original review
A song I like for its complicated set of instruments. It has a horn section, pedal steel guitar, even a cuica drum. As a result you get a lot of nice variety, and the piano is nice as well. The song isn't simple in musical direction or progression either - the verses have a meandering progression of notes, bass line, and instruments that come and go. Yet the lyrics are simple and despite being about a failed first relationship, singer Page looks back on it with maturity and self-effacement.

Brian Wilson (1992)
This song starts out slow, with a gentle acoustic guitar, and gets ever more rapid, nervous and frantic. I like its bright sounding chorus - nice happy chords to "I'm lying in bed just like Brian Wilson did" - and the band accomplish a great balance of perspective between music and lyrics. Plus I think the lyrics ring true for a lot of young people out there. Those who are either just out of university or college or even high school, people getting into their early twenties, who are uncertain what to do or how to go from where they are in life, and therefore become depressed and lethargic. "Drove downtown in the rain, just to check out the late night record store." Nothing better to do. nothing at all. Of course, this was 1992. Nowadays people just check in on Facebook or Instagram or take bored selfies, not having to drive anywhere. I wouldn't be surprised one bit if it turned out constant living on social media generally made young people more depressed than fulfilled. Ironically, the actual Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys did an a cappella cover of this song. It's strange seeing the heading in Wikipedia: "Brian Wilson cover of Brian Wilson."

One Week (1998)
This isn't a hugely favorite song of mine, but something I would willingly listen to, at least enough to consider it. It's a rampant barrage of probably ad-lipped lyrics that can almost be overwhelming. But they paint a good picture of an everyman who has his quirks and can probably be somewhat childish for his age. "Chickety-China, the Chinese chicken; you have a drumstick and your brain stops tickin'" "I don't make films, but if I did they'd have a samurai" "I have a history of taking off my shirt." I think this was their first major hit in America. Perhaps it spoke to a lot of them, or it was easily relatable. I think this was BNL at their quirkiest (at that time, of course, though Enid and 'Grade 9' were almost just as fun or silly).

It's All Been Done (1999)
A good enough song. I like how the lyrics refer to time periods over history; a love story told over a millennium. The band seem to have a lot of confidence that we'll still have 'The Price is Right' in the next thousand years. I think this is one of the band's rare songs to have a 'whoo-oo' refrain in it, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was a conscious decision.

Too Little Too Late (1998)
I don't know why this isn't in my list. I'd consider this one for its familiarity. I like its rock style - BNL aren't a hard rock band, yet they are considered a rock band -  and its simple, easy progression and lyrics. The music video is funny as well.

Pinch Me (2000)
As soon as the drum loop begins, you can recognize the song. The acoustic guitar, too. It has a very uncertain sound to it, and it always seemed to make me think of an uncle with a similar expression. It's not a very happy song in contrast to the others I've got above. The kind of 'would the world notice if I disappeared?' type of lyric. I expect it's a song about depression. But the hook and arrangement of the song is typical of the band, experienced and well-done.

Falling For the First Time (2001)
From the same album, I believe, as 'Pinch Me,' I've always liked this song, since hearing it on the radio, though I didn't realize, amazingly, that it was by BNL until last year. I just like the general progression, rock sound, and merry-go-round jauntiness of the pace and chords of the music. The 'anything loved can be lost' refrain has a great musical procession to it that highlights the whole song for me, and the drums are crazy.

Bass is Base (1993-1995)
I only know about this Canadian band because of their one song 'I Cry' (which I will mini-review below). The trio came from North York. I don't know why or how they didn't continue. They released two albums and had one top forty hit - the aforementioned 'I Cry.' Afterwards one became a chef, another went onto a solo career, and the third became a music producer.

I Cry (1996)
Original review
My original review focused more on the synesthesia of the thing (which most of my earlier reviews tend to do, somewhat unfortunately). The song is part bass and guitar, and part vocal melody/beat-boxing. It has an R&B feel to it, which jives with the band's genre. I like the guitar chord strummed over the 'you know that I cry' refrain. The song screams 90s to me, which is part of the attractiveness of it for me.

Beach Boys (1961-Present)
I've heard a few hits by this quintessential American band, particularly 'Fun Fun Fun,' 'I Get Around,' 'God Only Knows,' etc. It's hard not to hear at least a couple of them. They're happy, summery songs that reflect a sunny, fun lifestyle, probably in one's teen years, and no doubt during the summer, on the beach. Gidget would have dated these guys if she weren't so fictional. They were from virtually the same time period, after all.

California Girls (1965)
Ironically, I only heard this song because I first heard a cover version performed by David Lee Roth of Van Halen. I only saw his version because it featured on an 80s-focused episode of a music-comedy program called Video on Trial, which I watched now and then on MuchMusic. I liked the vocal melody sung during the choruses, and eventually I decided I should probably look up and listen to the original.
The Beach Boys' original version definitely sounds grander and better in quality to Roth's cover, which has a highly refined studio production to it and is a lot more rock-based. I like it a little more as a result. But I always find originals better than covers. Plus, the vocal melodies in the original are a lot sunnier and, as I said, grander. It inspired 'Back in the U.S.S.R.' by The Beatles, which is another great song from that time (and probably reflects my taste perfectly compared to wishing they could all be California girls. After all, those Ukraine girls really leave the West behind). This was Brian Wilson's musical genius at work. Well before he was lying in bed.

Kokomo (1988)
I heard this at Wal-Mart and looked it up largely out of curiosity. I love the bass line and the accordion sound of the verses, particularly as the bass goes from C up (not down) to G, then F. The steel drums are an appropriate and perfect add-on to the song musically and in terms of reflecting its subject matter. I guess by then, with Wilson's absence, they'd decided to re-focus on the Florida Keys (and other places in the Caribbean) rather than the beaches of California. The music does something pretty neat and smart here with the F chord: It transitions from a major to a minor in both the verses (the bass following this by sliding down an octave) and at the end of the choruses (which are a simple C major/F major until the end; the F major transitions longingly to a minor as the same tonic is held). I read that it was one of the band's biggest hits, which I find kind of funny considering that it was huge (thanks to its release via a film called Cocktails) decades after their original heyday of massive hits about surfing and having fun on the beach. The band had its name set in legacy as the fun 60s surf band largely thanks to its creative director, Brian Wilson, and then two decades later, without him, they put out a new song for a film's soundtrack and it's almost as big. These aren't the young male counterparts of Gidget anymore - they're middle-aged veterans. But it goes to show that it really doesn't matter how much time has passed or how old you've gotten in between. They aren't the only ones. Paul Simon had his giant stardom around the same time the Kray twins ran the club circuit in London, with his friend Art, and then he mostly fizzled out. Then he came back hugely with Graceland, a product of a trip to Africa to hear the sounds. Well beyond his days of hanging out with Julio down by the school yard, by that time he was still goofing off with Chevy Chase, who stole his vocals. But I'm getting off topic. Kokomo - great procession and instruments. Love the accordion and the unusual change from major to minor on the same chord.

The Beat (1978-1983)
One of the English Ska bands of the early 80s, peers to The Specials, UB40, Madness, etc. etc. I know about them almost entirely thanks to Ferris Bueller's Day Off. John Hughes had a great taste for 80s British music - he included it in a lot of his early teen Brat Pack films, and if he couldn't get it, he emulated it. Pretty in Pink has the Psychedelic Furs; Ferris Bueller's Day Off has the English Beat; Sixteen Candles has a whole soundtrack of artists ranging from The Specials to The Thompson Twins, and he even had his music producer, Ira Newborn, re-create and emulate 'Our House' by Madness for one scene. Unfortunately, for The English Beat alone, I don't have much to say. They come from the same place as Duran Duran and (old) Top Gear's Richard Hammond. (That is to say, Birmingham). I've tried listening to a few of their songs, but most didn't have enough of an impact on me. They're not bad - I'm just not entranced. 'Too Nice to Talk To' is okay. I like their ska-influenced stuff the most. I think they're one of the several bands to reform under different names after their dissolution, with some members returning as General Public and others going on to become Fine Young Cannibals. The nucleus of the band, Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger, worked together with other artists, notably providing additional vocals on 'Victoria Gardens' by Madness, a song originally chosen to be a single off Keep Moving, but replaced at the last second by 'One Better Day.' Oh well. Their vocals are great additions.

March of the Swivelheads/Rotating Head (1982)
Original review
This was my introduction to them: An fast instrumental playing as a teen boy runs and jumps and flings himself through garden hedges in an attempt to get home in time to look like he's 'on the mend' to his worried parents. I wouldn't actually call it a true instrumental, because Ranking Roger's voice does cut in, repeating 'rotating heads' during a quiet interlude in the song. You hear rattles, horns, hand drums, rapidly-picked bass. There's a sax, watery keyboard effects, a guitar I called 'zesty' sounding almost six years ago. It just has a chorus-y bright tone to it, a tone I usually prefer over most guitar sounds. Not to mention the percussion sounds that originally made me think someone slammed a plastic drinking cup on a counter during the studio recording sessions.
By this point I've gone on to try out the alternative version of this, which is actually the original, called 'Rotating Head.' The instrumental was the actual alternative, which I'd heard first. 'Rotating Head' comes off as even faster-paced thanks to Ranking Roger's quick vocals. It's a bit shorter and definitely arranged differently, but it doesn't lack any excitement or fun, and the dynamics are merely played with differently. I'll say both are fun for the ears, almost equally. The instrumental has more changes in it, with a quiet interlude and sound effects that are more present (no overlying, distracting vocals) but the lyrics the vocals are running with elevate the piece just as well. It appears to be about someone who lives a very fast-paced, exciting (though dangerous) lifestyle. Maybe an assassin, or a bounty hunter? Either way, it's just fun!

Mirror in the Bathroom
This is a questionable one. I think I like it in general, but the problem is I can't hear it very well; the videos on YouTube are really quiet. I like the guitar in it. Similar drum beat and rhythm to the song written above. This is one of their ska-driven tunes, and it's pretty good. I just wish I could hear it better. I could turn it up, but I shouldn't need to. I get a sense of difficulty and disappointment with this song, a feeling of unfairness. Something one can relate to now and then.

Big Audio Dynamite (1984-1997)
One of the groups to form out of members from other groups (notably The English Beat and The Clash). That's all I really have to say about them, other than that my father actually has their first album, on vinyl. They look like they're trying to look as cool and full of swagger as they possibly can, though I think they over did it somewhat.

E=MC2 (1985)
I heard this on a music channel on TV and liked the keyboard strings. It gave it a false sense of high ideals for a moment to me, as if an orchestra full of snobby classical musicians were playing. That idea lasted as long as the first time I heard it the first time. I think it's notable enough for me to have it on my list, and I would listen to it at any given time, though I'd probably stick to the radio-shortened version. The actual version is almost six minutes long, and for no reason; Mick Jones seems to run out of things to say around four minutes, and then it's just the chorus lyrics repeated on and on until it abruptly stops. They could have easily just faded it out during the final sound clips.
The song itself is a reference to film plots and characters. That's mostly it. Additionally, there are sound overdubs of quotes of a few characters from the 1970 film Performance. It kind of sounds like a bunch of random references loosely thrown together to create an interwoven fabric of lyrics that just sounds like constant changes of topic, and all at random.

Big Mountain (1988-Present)
Just a band I know because I like one of their songs. Reggae.

Baby, I Love Your Way (Cover) (1994)
This is a song from my childhood. I heard it on the radio all the time. I never felt anything for it, particularly, at the time. When I looked it up again six years ago, though, I immediately liked it, particularly the strength of the production and the diversity of the bass. The chorus has a great bass progression that follows E major note-by-note before immediately returning to B, a fifth of E. When it hit B, with a gentle keyboard accompanying that with a B major chord, my mind immediately went to a girl of whom no other has captured my feelings so strongly. It would be the beginning of my realization that many songs I'd hear afterwards with an emphasis on that note/chord would tend to get my mind focused on her. Anyway, it was performed by the band for the film Reality Bites. I never saw the film, but I love the song, particularly for its diverse musical style of playing, its bass line and its genre. It's a great reggae version of a Peter Frampton love song. I'll be coming back to him later.

Billy Joel (1965-Present)
A piano player from New York who had mainstream success from probably the mid-70s. I know several of his hits, particularly 'My Life' and 'Uptown Girl.' I don't particularly like any of them, though he does have a vocal range. The former I don't like simply because I don't really enjoy songs where the singer is ranting or trying to get the subject to leave him alone or stop. The latter I just don't like in general. 'Keeping the Faith' is alright, though I was surprised the same singer that did 'My Life' was singing that. Anyway. He's had some great success and there's no doubt he has talent, but I just like his one song listed below.

It's All Rock'n'Roll To Me (1980)
I liked this almost as soon as I heard it. Maybe it's because it sounds kind of sarcastic and skeptic. I may not enjoy hearing him say "I don't want to hear you say..." or "not on my time," etc., but I greatly enjoy his sarcastic rhyming with this one. "How about a pair of pink sidewinders and a bright orange pair of pants? You can really be a beau brommel baby if you just gave it half a chance." Then there's the music, with a progression that sounds familiar but is actually different, going from C through E minor, B flat major, and ending on F major. There's a section in minors - E minor, A minor, repeat, then D major and G major. The song has elements of 1950s rock, which I like as it's different and incorporated nicely.

Blind Melon (1990-1999)
Once again, just a band I know thanks to one song. Their lead singer died in 1995 of an overdose.

No Rain (1992)
This song is almost something of a novelty because if you ask anyone (old enough, or into older music) they'll probably say that that's the song with the bee girl. But aside from that, I like its simplicity and its sunny atmosphere. This is one of the very few songs I can play from beginning to end on acoustic guitar. E major to D major. That's mostly it. There's an A major and an E minor 7 or something, I kind of forget, but that's it. Oh, and a G major. The song is a nice fusion of electric and acoustic guitar. The bass line might sound simple, especially with such a simple progression, but I've isolated it and it's actually played around it pretty well. Complex, but not overly so. The bassist is also the backing voice in the song. Of course, the music video probably overshadows the song, which is kind of unfortunate. The director of the video would go on to direct Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' the same year, a song viewed as an anthem for the 'apathetic gen Xers,' though it really was an unintentional heavy-hitting marketing piece for Teen Spirit deodorant. Upon looking it up, I discovered that it was (at the time) a hugely popular deodorant for teen girls, released to market in 1991. You can't buy it today, unfortunately. Sales of the feminine hygiene product mirrored the charting progress of the iconic grunge song. It's no longer on the market. The Nirvana song probably is, but likely only on online vendors like iTunes and in the used section in whatever real-world record stores are still around. How did I get so off topic? Blind Melon. No Rain. Good song.

Blondie (1974-1982)
This is a rare example of a band I largely don't have any interest in - or even like - yet they have one good - perhaps okay - song that I will listen to. Everyone else knows them for their impact on pop culture via 'One Way or Another.' I've heard a few of their other songs, none of which I really actually like. Heart of Glass? No way. The Tide is High? Yeah, not listening to that. One Way or Another? Heard it enough. Call Me? Sure, why not.

Call Me (1980)
Originally, I liked this because I liked the sound of Debbie Harry's voice during the bridge, where she sings in several different languages. I found it sensual and attractive. Then I began listening to the whole thing in general and it just fit in with what I routinely listened to, because there wasn't anything wrong with it or annoying. Nothing to dislike. This is a very obvious song in D minor - not just the key, but like 'The Wall' by Pink Floyd, use of the D minor chord as well. Both songs have a dominant guitar D minor chord played throughout the song. Anything else? Well, the pattern used to play the drums by focusing in the hi-hat was interesting.

Blue Peter (1978-1985)
This is a Canadian band that has some interesting sounds and potential. I need to listen to more of their stuff. I recently checked out 'Don't Walk Past' and it's a synthpop song with a really nice piano riff in the middle and during the final coda. I've heard 'Chinese Graffiti' on the radio more than once as well. I like lead singer Paul Humphrey's voice.

Radio Silence (1980)
This a good song to kill time with. I tend to think of deserts when I hear it, deserts and heat. Nice simple easy rock progression and sound. Like I said, I like the lead singer's voice. Good to listen to in the late afternoon in the summer, perhaps during rush hour.

Blue Rodeo (1984-Present)
I was introduced to this band (also Canadian) via my mother's VHS tapes. They're an okay band. I wouldn't listen to all of their stuff but they have a couple of nice songs. There's probably more out there I'd like, but so far nothing else I've heard - 'Lost Together,' 'Till I am Myself Again,' etc. - have caught my ears. There is 'Try,' however, which is truly endearing and sweet. I wouldn't put it on my list, though.

Trust Yourself (1990)
This was what I heard/saw on the tape. I liked it. I love the guitar notes played in the intro. The music just sounds good. Sounds like the song is ruled by minors, which together can give it a great, if not dark, serious sound. I don't know the chords or notes - I may assume the first note could be E minor - but I'm going to learn them.

Hasn't Hit Me Yet (1993)
This was a radio find. When I first heard it, I actually thought that it was Elvis Costello. I was surprised to discover it was these guys, because the voice singing wasn't the one I was expecting. Turns out they have two singers that perform in much the same consistency as The Cars' Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr. One sings a lot more often, the other now and then.
I like the guitar in this song, mostly. That and some of the lyrics. I find them relatable to some extent, at least in the sense that I felt that way a lot more often in the past. The song's structure is also nice in that it builds up, though unlike 'Trust Yourself,' which uses minor chords overall (it seems), this song is just as negative and dark in its lyrics yet it uses music that's much more cheerful, if not a little bittersweet. It's interesting and welcoming.

Boney M. (1975-1986)
This is the brainchild of German producer Frank Farian, an almost-chef who happened to turn on the TV one day to the credits of an Australian import called Boney. Playing with studio tools, he tweaked his voice and recorded a dance song called 'Baby Do You Wanna Bump.' This was the start of a big European dance group that worked by having a studio full of session players and Farian create and sing the music, and several dancers - three female (who also provided vocals) and one male (just a guy) - 'front' the group. Everything was done behind the scenes, with the four performers largely miming and dancing to provide in the absence of a band and Farian himself. Ironically, Farian tried to continue this practice into the 1990s, creating a band called Milli Vanilli, and that blew up in the worst way. It's pretty amazing that what seemed to be common practice in the 70s - at least with Farian's methods - came to be the sort of thing that justified lawsuits and infamy in the 90s. I can imagine Frank wondering, "why? I spent years having Bobby Farrell pretend to sing my could doing this again cause so much disaster? Blitzkrieg!"

Rasputin (1978)
A dance song sensationalizing the life of Gregori Yefimovich Rasputin, particularly his fall from grace as men in 'higher standing' plotted to, and carried out, his assassination (Prince Yusupov and company). The song champions him as 'Russia's greatest love machine,' loved by young women and hated by politicians and men of the aristocracy. I've done my own reading on this topic, though via an actual historical text written by Robert Massie rather than Wikipedia (Massie's work is actually cited several times in the Wikipedia article of Nicholas II, last Tsar of Russia). The song ends with Farian proclaiming, "oh, those Russians," which is a direct reference to an earlier song by Eartha Kit. Musically, it's the most B-focused song I've heard, with the bass, strings and guitar all starting on, jumping up to, and returning back to B major. It's neat. However, unlike the lyrics, Rasputin was never the 'lover' of the Russian queen. The papers and common folk of the day often got that impression, but he was only an adviser and manipulator who used scripture, holy faith, and the power of his demeanor (plus the power of his followers) to get his way. A lot of people would comment on his gaze. It's a fun song, typical of the Eurodance stuff of the time. America had "Y.M.C.A." Europe had 'Rasputin.' One talked about hanging out at a bath house; the other partly sensationalized historical events and figures. I think the latter sounds more interesting.

The Box (1981-1992)
Another Canadian act, this one being from Montreal (apart from all the Toronto-based ones I've been touching on so far). These guys had a couple of fair hits in this country, particularly 'Closer Together' in the mid-80s. I think they were something. Funny thing: I almost never see live music. I never have much of the interest or the time considering I work evenings. I don't watch tour dates or rosters. I do get the odd invitation, but I rarely go (not my taste, or I'm working). One time, however, I finally opted to try out something a college professor was playing, at a place called the Brass Monkey. Only a ten minute drive down the road, why not. It wasn't too bad.
I would find out that the following night, The Box had actually played a gig at the same place. I hadn't gone. I hadn't been able to. I had to work that night. But they played here, in that little bar, just up the road from me! They were an 80s band that produced records! The whole thing makes me hang my head because all of the artists and bands I'm interested in are either apart, reformed into something else, or on-and-off, mostly because they're from twenty to forty years ago. Or they're based in a different country, or they're in Europe. Yet I could have had the opportunity to actually see a Canadian 80s outfit that never got huge but got big enough, just when they happened to be more or less back together, not necessarily recording big-time but present enough to happen to bop around to your local tavern. Not just any, but the one right up the road, ten minutes' drive. Gee. That would have been a live experience I'd have been happy to have. After all, how often can one get the chance to see an 80s Canadian thing that did okay - today?

Walk Away (1984)
This is a song that's mostly comedic and silly, and its style is why I like it: There's not much singing. The vocals are more of a description, a monologue of activities and movements that could probably fit a stand up comedy routine. The music is guitar-driven and easy-going, following along with the lyrics at a simple pace that can get maddening after awhile, just as the lyrics do. Call me simple, but I did find the sound effects really funny the first couple of times. "Breakfast/hot coffee (breaking dishes) Whoops! In your eggs! Never mind..." It just sounded hapless and constantly unfortunate. It's your typical never-ending mid-week day at the drab office, complete with tardiness, spilled coffee, and creepy co-workers. I like its reality-driven focus and non-traditional leadership of spoken monologue over repetitive music. Of course, there is the refrain: "I caught myself dreaming of an open field..." There is a return to the usual song structure, but it comes in doses.

My Dreams of You (1986)
I felt a real emotional connection to this song. It does sound dreamy (the chord synths and fast keyboard notes) but also very full of yearning, endearment, and melancholy. I related the lyrics to how I felt about two female 'friends' who were never more than acquaintances of which I had separate crushes on. I first heard it on the radio just as I was leaving my car to get to class. I ended up a minute late thanks to my intrigue. It sounds both wondrous and forlorn at the same time. Like you're in awe of how you think you may be feeling about someone, but simultaneously saddened and hopeless that that someone will never share your wonder or feelings, and that they'll only ever be a face. Musically, it sounds somewhat similar to 'Don't (Forget About me)' by Simple Minds, in terms of progression. I think they're both in E minor: E/B/A. One is a lot more optimistic and happy, though.

Boyzone (1993-2000)
An Irish boy band, in similar vein to America's Backstreet Boys and N*Sync and Canada's soulDecision and b4-4. I only know them thanks to their song 'Picture of You.' I do know that Ronan Keeeting went solo and released a song called 'Lovin' Each Day,' which I used to hear on the radio a lot at the time. That song was alright, though I wouldn't listen to it now.

Picture of You (1997)
I heard this over the closing credits of Bean: The Ultimate Disaster Movie. I still like the song, particularly for its horns and the mental images I derive from it, visual and synesthetic, thanks to the influence of the film. The voices are nice as well. It seems to be about forgiving and forgetting in friendship. The music has a regretful and hopeful tone to it. It's not bad. Of course, Mr. Bean features in the music video and on the cover of the single artwork.

Bran Van 3000 (1996-2002)
Wikipedia describes this band as an 'alternative rock collective' from Montreal. When I hear the term 'collective,' I think of bohemian artists living part-time in a van carrying hand-made instruments and playing to their own rules. And I imagine a lot of people being part of it. But perhaps the modern view of it is 'a bunch of creative people from various backgrounds democratically making their own sound to their own rules.' I didn't copy that from anywhere. I came up with that. I think it sounds more accurate, and at least more positive. Anyway, their name definitely sounds unusual - like a healthy cereal alternative, but from the future (considering the blatant 3000).

Drinking in L.A. (1997)
I love this song's sound. It has this high distortion to it, mixed with angry self-disparity and loathing. The lyrics talk about looking for opportunity - "But we did nothing that day, and I say, what the hell am I doing drinking in L.A. at twenty-six?" The introduction creatively takes the form of a commentator being heard on the radio one morning. Then the aspirations and frustrations of the vocals start up, talking about writing and publishing scripts and stories and gaining success as a writer, except those are merely goals and aspirations, and what's really happening is the singer is lazily hanging around in a state of lethargy and depression, and feeling a lot of anger at the lack of self-progress. The music also seems to dissipate a lot of heat to me - not literally, of course, but I get the impression the day is hot and sunny, and in a negative way. The song does a good job interpreting and telling the story, but musically and vocally. Of course, for what seems no reason at all, the cover art of the single features a man and a woman in 40s style swimming costumes running gleefully. The randomness of it all is exactly what I find attractive.

Bryan Addams (1976-Present)
Another Canadian artist, although much bigger than the bands I've been going over so far. His career has really lasted, though I'll say I think he probably had it best the year I was born, when he wrote and recorded a song for the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves: 'Everything I Do, I Do it For You.' That song was the biggest hit of 1991. For me? Eh. Not to my interests, whether it's only four days older than me or twenty-five years. I'm not a big Bryan Addams fan, though I do like a select few of his songs, mostly in passing: Cloud Number Nine, When You're Gone. Otherwise, a lot of his earlier songs seem to sound identical, or at least similar, especially 'Fits You Good' and 'Cuts Like a Knife.' Then again, maybe that's just me.

Run To You (1984)
This is probably the one song of his that stands out to me above the rest. As I've probably said more than once in this whole thing, it's the guitar in the song. I'm actually a bit surprised at how often I say it's the guitar. Ah well. The guitar in this one has a real vocal tone to it, and it sounds like it has some kind of real authority in the song: If it were a person, you wouldn't change his mind or his ways. He's going to do it his way. I also like the way the chorus plays: F sharp major, A major, E major, and B major. What do you know - it's the same progression in F sharp minor all over again! Why is it so popular? Either way, it works here, just as it does in all the other songs. Yet it's a song about cheating. The little bridge with the solo guitar power chords almost seems self-assuring, as if one is trying to see themselves in the best possible light despite their dirty deeds. Self assuring and self-affirming. Eh. Whatever. They just sound good.

Well, that FINALLY brings me to the end of the 'B' section of micro-reviews. This took several days, after many days of procrastination, but it's been interesting. I'll come back with reviews on artists that begin with 'C' at some point in the future.

*Correction: I erroneously described The Bangles as 'another British girl group.' They're American. Duh. And since the publication of this list of reviews, I've heard their song 'Walking On Your Street.' Sounds like 'Love Shack' by The B-52's. Good song.

Red Cloud